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16. The Parable of the Scribes Trained for the Kingdom


Chapter 16

The Parable of the Scribes Trained for the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 13:51-52

by Pastor Eric Chang

Montreal, October 1, 1978


“Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

We, disciples of Jesus, are sent forth to make disciples

For those of you who are new, you may like to know that week by week, we’ve been studying the Lord Jesus’ teaching systematically, passage by passage for two and a half years. And today, we continue our study in the teaching of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 13:51-52.

In verse 51, after finishing all the teachings on the parables, the Lord Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you understand all that has been taught in these seven parables?” And they said to him, “Yes.” Well, as far as they knew they understood it. Of course, anyone who imagines that he has understood all that there is to understand about the parables in all its riches is likely to discover that that is not so. But the disciples felt that they have got the main points as far as they were able to understand it.

Then the Lord Jesus says in verse 52,

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

What does “therefore” indicate? It means if you understand my words, you will be become like a scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven. Now that is wonderful! The Greek word μαθητεύω, translated as “trained” actually means become a disciple of, in order to be a scribe of the kingdom of heaven. I find that this is very precious, and we are going to see some very important principles emerging from this.

In Matthew 28:18-20, the Lord Jesus says very important words when he sends his disciples forth into the world:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

On the basis of all this authority that God has given him, he says, “Go therefore and make disciples.” Now the Greek word μαθητεύω translated as “make disciples” is the same one translated as “trained” in Matthew 13:52. Make disciples for the kingdom. Often, when you read a translation, you don’t realize that you are dealing with the same words in the original. Now the Lord Jesus sends forth his disciples to make disciples. He doesn’t send us forth to only make converts, to bring people in so that the church may be filled with numbers of people.

You can do this with various kinds of methods and gimmicks, and I know most of these except that I refuse to use them. If you bring lots of social activities and entertainment into the church, say, lots of singing groups, games, outings, speakers on various popular topics, you can bring all kinds of people into the church. People like to be entertained. But we are sent forth into the world not to entertain people, not even to make converts, but to make disciples. That is very important to understand.

How do you make disciples?

The question is, How do you make disciples? Can these words of the Lord Jesus apply to you? When he sends you forth to make disciples, do you know how to make a disciple? Maybe you know how to make a convert. Maybe you will tell them to believe in God through Jesus so that their sins are forgiven, and you might even succeed in making a convert. But that is not a disciple. In the Bible, a disciple is often pictured as a soldier, so he is far more than just a convert. I don’t doubt that if you know the “Four Spiritual Laws,” you might make some converts. The Lord Jesus sends us forth to make disciples, so my question today is, do you know how to fulfill the Lord Jesus’ teaching? How do you make disciples? That is exactly where we come back to our passage today, Matthew 13:51-52. Only two categories of people in the Old Testament—the prophets and the scribes—had disciples. The scribes are referred to many times. Do you know what is a scribe? That is what we have to study.

But let me first show you that the Early Church was concerned to fulfill the Lord Jesus’ teaching. They were not concerned just to make numbers of converts to fill the church with a large number of people who are neither here nor there, that when trouble comes they all disappear. If I wanted to build a church that just had a lot of converts in it, I would do things in a very different way from what we have been doing in the last two and a half years. We would have used all the well-known devices of spiritual entertainment to fill a church.

I have gone to many American churches, and I was astonished at what is frankly to me, spiritual entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. You have very nice programs of duet singing, music, and talks. They are all skilled in entertaining. Then you have various activities which interest people who are not necessarily interested in spiritual things. In this way, you would get a big crowd of people. But when perse­cution comes, they go as quickly as they come. I am not interested in that kind of a church.

I saw how these big, rich churches filled with people, became empty when the Communists came into China. Those people did not dare to turn up in church anymore. You see, the church was no longer a good place for entertainment, for social gathering, to meet your friends, to have a chit-chat. So nobody came anymore, and when the numbers disappeared, the churches had to close. We need to fulfill the Lord Jesus’ command: make disciples. To do that, the church has to become a teaching church.

Now that is exactly what Jesus’ disciples did. They went out and made disciples. The Greek word, μαθητεύω, “make disciples” occurs 4 times, although the word “disciple” occurs hundreds of times. First, in Matthew 28:19, then in Matthew 13:52 which is in our present passage, “trained for the kingdom of God.” Again, in Matthew 27:57, we read that Joseph of Arimathea “become a disciple of Jesus”, not just a convert. So disciples were coming from every quarter, including the highest mem­bers of the society of Israel, because Joseph of Arimathea was a judge, a member the 71-member Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel. Finally, in Acts 14:21, we find Paul and Barnabas doing just that. They went out everywhere “making disciples”.

You see, to “make a disciple” means that these people will “be trained for the kingdom of God”. They are not just going to be present in church, they are trained. Now you can see that the whole program of our church is geared towards training, towards making disciples.

Disciples never come in large numbers. You look for quality, not for numbers when you make disciples. If all you want is numbers, or if all you want is decisions, then you don’t do things in this way. But when you want quality, then you must have training. When you have training, it takes time, but it also takes people. What kind of people? The scribes. That is why the Lord Jesus says, “therefore every scribe who is trained for the kingdom.” The point is, before you can train disciples, you have got to train scribes. How can you have a church of disciples when you have a church with no scribes who are trained for the kingdom in it?

Now we will notice basically that a scribe is a teacher. And we shall go on to see much more about scribes, because I would like you to understand very clearly what a scribe is, by the time we have finished. From Acts 13:1, we read that the Early Church had prophets and teach­ers, which, as I said, is another word for scribes. And we find that Paul—still named Saul at the time—and Barnabas were both scribes, and probably both prophets as well, because you can be both prophet and scribe, although they are not necessarily the same thing. But certainly, Acts 13:1 tells us that Barnabas was either a prophet or a scribe, or both prophet and scribe, or both prophet and teacher.

We also know that Paul was a scribe. He was, in the Jewish term, a rabbi, a teacher. In fact, from Acts 9:25, we discover that Paul had his own disciples which makes it very clear that he was a scribe, because scribes had their own disciples. These disciples of Paul may have been his disciples before he became a Christian, because Acts 9:25 is speaking about a time immediately after Paul’s conversion, and it seems too soon for him to have his own Christian disciples. They seem to have been his disciples before he became a Christian. Paul was a very learned rabbi before he became a Christian, so clearly, he had a large number of disciples who tended to follow him around, as the learned rabbis did. And when he became a Christian, it seems that many of his disciples became Christians along with him. At least one thing is plain, Paul was certainly a scribe trained for the kingdom.

What is the duty of a scribe?

Now what exactly did a scribe do? Well, a scribe did three things basically. He had a three-fold task.

1. Search and study the Law of God

First, a scribe studied the Law. Before you can teach, of course, you have to study. A scribe was a rabbi, and he was an expert in the Law of God, that is, in the Bible. By “Law”, it doesn’t mean laws in the secular sense that we think about today, but the Law of God, the Old Testament or the “Torah”, as it is called. As you know, the whole Old Testament is called “The Law and the Prophets”, that was the two main distinctions. Sometimes, it would be spoken of as with three main distinctions: the Law, the Wisdom Writings and the Prophets.

So the scribe was an expert in the Law. He studied the Law of God carefully. That is why the Lord Jesus says to them in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life.” The word “search” (ἐραυνάω) is very characteristic of the work of how the scribe studied the Law. He did not just read the Bible; everybody does that, but he searched the Scriptures. He looked into the depth of the Word of God. In other words, he was an expositor, an exegete. He expounded the Word of God, having studied and searched the Scriptures.

The same Greek word for “search” is used in John 7:52, where when Nicodemus was inclined to believe in Jesus, they said to him, “Search the Scriptures and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” They said if you searched and studied the Scriptures, you will see that no prophet, no Messiah comes out of Galilee (Jo. 7:40-42). They did not know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he was living in Galilee.

And again, the same Greek word (ἐραυνάω) is used in 1 Peter 1:11, and its cognate (ἐξεραυνάω) in 1 Peter 1:10, where they “searched” the prophecies to know the Coming of Christ. A synonymous word is also used in 1 Peter 1:10, for “searching carefully” (ἐκζητέω) the Scriptures or the prophecies.

This then is the first task of the scribe. He did not just study, but he studied carefully or searched the Scriptures. Why did he search the Scriptures? If he were a good scribe, he searched them because he knew that only there will you find the words of eternal life. We shall see that scribes became scribes for different motives. But if he were a good one, he searched the Scriptures because he knew that you find the word of life only in the Bible. Certainly, no subject could be more important for study in this world.

Why do you study, whether you study engineering, or law, or biochemistry, or whatever it is? It is because you want to make a living to protect your physical life. Probably that is the first instance. Secondly, you might be somewhat interested in the subject. For someone who is not even interested in the subject, they study it because that is the only profession that they might get a job in, or there is a certain demand in the market for that kind of job. Consequently, you study in order to secure a living for yourself. But there is no subject in the world that you should study more carefully than God’s Word because we are dealing with eternal life.

Everything else passes away. The science that you study today will be outdated in a few years’ time. The textbooks that you use today, will be out of date in a few years’ time. Science will have gone ahead and you will be left behind unless you keep chasing on. It is the same thing with medicine. Unless a doctor keeps up with modern trends, he will be practicing medicine that is out of date. And every department of science has a way of passing away; it is transient. But the Word of God that deals with eternal life never passes away. There is no subject in the world more important to study, and that is something that the good scribes understood very well. He studied the Word of God because he sought eternal life.

2. Teach the Law of God to show the way of eternal life

Having studied the Word of God, the second function of the scribe was to teach the Law. He studied it not only that he might have a personal satisfaction of knowing the path to eternal life, but rather, that he may then help others onto the path of eternal life. If he is a good scribe, he studied it in order to be able to teach others. So the scribe is called “a teacher of the Law” in Luke 5:17. In fact, in the Greek, “teacher of the Law” is one word—νομοδιδάσκαλος.

In the same way too, we search and study the Word of God in order to be able to show others the way of life. That is why in 1 Timothy 5:17, the apostle Paul says that the elders who preach and teach were to be regarded with the highest honor in the churches, because they perform the most important function. They were building disciples, and so building the church.

However, the scribes were not meant to teach only by their knowledge of the Bible. They were not meant to teach only by word of mouth but by their life. In the same way, the scribe of the kingdom must not only know the Word of God well, he must also be an example by his life. That element is simply dropped out today. Today, when you sit in a seminary, your teacher’s private life—what he does outside of the seminary, in his home with his family, or wherever—is none of your business. He is there because he has a certain diploma which says that he has a certain amount of training, therefore he is qualified to teach you on certain aspects of the Bible. That is wrong. In the Bible, a scribe’s private life is your business, because he taught not just by his words but by the kind of life that he lived. So the apostle Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” You must imitate me. It is a command. His life has to be of the kind that you can imitate, to follow his example, not just to learn his teaching. So, a lot was demanded of a scribe who was a good scribe.

3. Apply the Law of God, acting as a judge

The third function of the scribe was to apply the Law. The scribe not only studied the Law, he not only taught the Law, but it was also his task to apply the Law into various situations. How did he apply the Law? He applied the Law, for example, by acting as a judge. The scribes were most frequently chosen as judges in Israel, because they knew the Law of God, therefore they were the best qualified to judge in any civil or criminal case.

The lay person doesn’t know what to do as a judge, but the scribe, trained in the Word of God, ought to know what should be done. Therefore he would pass judgment in civil cases where there was a civil dispute, for example, who should inherit, and what should he inherit; where should the boundaries be drawn; what should one do or not do on the Sabbath; what should be done in this or that case.

He would also be involved in criminal cases to pass judgment. In Acts 7:58, when Stephen was being put to death, the witnesses laid their gowns at Paul’s feet, but at that time he was called Saul. Again, it is plain that Paul was a scribe, and he was applying the Law, doing the work of a judge in the case against Stephen, which was being regarded as criminal. Stephen was sentenced to death with Paul’s consent, not to say at his jurisdiction. We can see from his writings later on, that this matter was always on his conscience, and he could never get it out of his mind. He felt that he was the worst of sinners because he condemned to death the disciples of Christ, although he did not know what he was doing at that time, and he begs forgiveness from God for that.

Jesus wants Christians to become scribes for the Kingdom

When we come to the Christian scribe, we find that he is expected to do the same thing. The servant of God in the church, the scribe of God trained for the kingdom is expected to act as a judge in the church. We see this in 1 Corinthians 5:12 and 6:5, where Paul rebukes the Corinthians, that one Christian took another Christian to a secular court. He says to them, “Are there no scribes among you who know the Word of God well enough to act as a judge, that two Christians take up a court case against each other before the unbelievers, and so disgrace the Name of God?”

He expected the Christians to have the responsibility to judge cases inside the church in accordance with the Word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1). By judging, it is not criticizing a person (cf. Mt. 7:1), so there is no contradiction here about not judging a person. From all this, we now understand the function of a scribe.

1. The church must have Christian scribes to train disciples

Remember, the Lord Jesus is speaking about “scribes for the kingdom,” the Christian scribes in Matthew 13:52. This is so important today, firstly, because we see that our task is to train disciples. It was the task of the scribes and prophets to train disciples, but there were no prophets in Israel during 400 years of the inter-testamental period, except John the Baptist for a very short time. John the Baptist trained disciples, and the only people who actually trained any disciples were the scribes. Are there Christian scribes in the church today?

2. There will be a great famine of the Word of God

Secondly, because there is going to be a great famine of the Word of God! I always think with fear and trembling of those words in Amos 8:11-12 [NJB], where the prophet Amos says,

“The days are coming” declares the Lord Yahweh “when I shall send a famine on the country, not hunger for food, not thirst for water, but famine for hearing Yahweh’s word. People will stagger from sea to sea, will wander from the north to the east, searching for Yahweh’s word, but will not find it.”

I find that this famine is already here today. There is a famine of the Word of God in the churches. In these last two years, I have preached the Word of God virtually from coast to coast in Canada, at least from Montreal to Vancouver, and most of the main cities in between. Wherever I have preached the Word of God, especially when I explained what is “total commitment,” what it is to become a disciple (a Christian), I am greeted with the same reaction all the time: “We have never heard this before. We are simply starved. We don’t get the Word of God. When are you coming back again?”

The churches have pastors, and their pastors hold some degree from some seminary somewhere. But where are the men who break the Bread of life? It is the members of their congregation who are telling me, “We are starved. We are not being fed. We are hungry for the Word of God.” My heart goes out to them because today, pastors are trained people with some academic knowledge, but that is not a scribe in the Bible sense.

Why is there such a famine coming upon Israel according to Amos? When we look into the New Testament period, we find the same situation happening. In 2 Timothy 4:2-4, why does the apostle Paul tell Timothy to teach with all authority, to rebuke and to preach the Word of God at any time? He says to Timothy,

“Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

“The days are coming when people will not endure sound doctrine.” Does this not strike fear in your heart? They don’t want to listen to the truth anymore. But what will they do? They will get teachers who will entertain them and tell them the things they like to hear. People don’t like to be rebuked, so they don’t like the good teachers who tend to be severe. They like “the entertainers”, who know how to dish it up to you to tickle your fancy. No wonder when people don’t want to endure sound doctrine, the famine will really be at its worst. There won’t be the chance to hear the Word of God anymore, and it is hard enough in these days.

I would like you to understand first, concerning Matthew 13:52, that the Lord Jesus is training scribes for the kingdom, and he wants every person to become a disciple to study the Word of God until every person is capable of teaching.

The requirements for a New Testament scribe

1. Discern good and evil

Let us read this passage, Hebrews 5:11-14, because like all good scribes, the writer to the Hebrews, who is a scribe, a great expositor of the Word of God himself, administers a very severe rebuke to the church. He is not the kind of person who tickles the ears of his hearers. He is rather strong in his language, telling them that they have gone down spiritually, so they don’t understand spiritual things. I am afraid I have often been accused of being strong in my language, because I don’t tickle anybody’s ears. It is not diplomatic, and rather hard on the ears sometimes, isn’t it? Perhaps we should read this whole passage, to understand what is expected of every Christian. Previous to this passage, the writer to the Hebrews was talking about the king and priest, Melchizedek, and this carries on to the “him” in verse 11:

“Concerning him (Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, yet you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s Word. You need milk and not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good and evil.”

The scribe who is writing this letter says something that does not tickle the ears in verse 12, “you ought to be teachers, yet you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s Word.” And this is the point that I would like you to see, that he expects every Christian to leave the baby stage, and grow up to become a teacher, a scribe, who is skilled in the Word of righteousness.

I would also like you to notice that he describes the Word of God as “the Word of righteousness” in verse 13. I have told you repeatedly, that the Bible is concerned with righteousness. “Without holiness, no man shall see God” (cf. Heb. 12:14). Yet today, it is amazing that the teachings of so many churches deny righteousness as essential to salvation! The Bible is the Word of righteousness, solid food for the mature who have teeth to chew. He who lives on milk is unskilled in this Word of right­eousness for he is a child.

Now I said a moment ago, that the scribe in the Bible is not a scribe who simply collects a diploma from some seminary, or from some Faculty of Divinity. What does it say in verse 14? His faculties are trained by practice (experience), to distinguish between good and evil. The qualifications for a teacher in the kingdom of God is not just that you have a diploma or a degree, but that you have spiritual quality, capable of discerning between good and evil, because you are skilled in “the Word of righteousness.” We are not talking academics here. You don’t learn to discern good and evil by a diploma. You learn that in the school of life, by living with God. That shows the kind of disciples and the kind of scribes the Bible has in mind. These are men of God who learn to walk with God in everyday life, whose faculties are trained by practice in everyday life to discern between good and evil. These are men of God that the Lord Jesus is talking about, not people who just stuff knowledge into their heads. There is a world of difference between these two.

2. Live the life to set an example

The spiritual qualifications of the teacher in the New Testament are very high. For this we can also look at 2 Timothy 3:10-11, where Paul is speaking to Timothy, the disciple he trained, who proved to be an outstanding disciple, and became a very good scribe:

“You, though, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my aims, my faith, my patience and my love, my perseverance, and the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in places like Antioch, Iconium and Lystra—all the persecutions I have endured; and the Lord has rescued me from every one of them.”

Paul says to Timothy, “You have observed not only my teaching but also my conduct. That is very important. As I said, no one worries much about conduct in a seminary, but if you are going to train a New Testament church, you have got to live the life. If you cannot live the life, you don’t have the right to talk. Paul points to himself as an example, and he dares to do that because he says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “Whatever I am, I am by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit in me has made me what I am.” Paul is saying, “Just imitate me. If I get scarred in battle, you get scarred in battle, because a disciple is not above his master. What happens to the master happens to the disciple.”

Today, we have academic training. You don’t produce disciples by academic training. You need men of God, who have fought the battles in the frontlines of spiritual warfare. These are the men from whom to learn.

Then he goes on to say in 2 Timothy 3:14, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” Whom did Timothy learn from? From Paul. That is some teacher! “You know whom you learned it from, and so hold fast to it.” Those are strong words. I wonder how many teachers dare to talk like this today. There is no false humility: “Oh, I am no good. Don’t follow my example.” What do you mean by don’t follow your example? If you go forth to make disciples in this world, don’t think all you have to do is teach them theory, because they are going to watch your life, they are going to learn to follow your example.

Do you know how to make disciples? It is tough, isn’t it? You don’t make disciples by saying to them, “Look, you become a disciple of Christ but don’t follow me.” If you are going to make disciples, you must live the life. You have got to take up the cross to die to your self, and follow Jesus. These are high requirements of a New Testament scribe.

3. Have God’s authority and power

The scribes were also called lawyers, so if you come across the title “lawyers”, it is just another name for scribes. They were just the same people. They were experts in the Law. They were Bible scholars, so they also held the title of “rabbi”. You also know that Jesus was addressed as “rabbi”, therefore he was recognized by the people as a scribe. He taught with authority, not as the scribes. (Mt. 7:29) The scribes tended to quote each other, but the Lord Jesus spoke with a power from above, and that is what he expects of every New Testament scribe. Paul was a man equipped with power. Unless you are trained in power, you don’t become a New Testament scribe. That is a big difference between a New Testament scribe and the scribes of Israel at that time.

Scribes came from every social class, held enormous respect and authority

Let us come back to Matthew 13:52, this parable of the Lord Jesus, and learn more about scribes as they were in the New Testament times. The scribes came from every class of society. They came from the high classes and from the low classes, from a rich family or from a poor family. There were scribes who were chief priests, and also scribes who were merchants or carpenters. Just as today, scribes came then from every class.

The great Jewish rabbi called Shammai was in fact, like the Lord Jesus, a carpenter by trade. Or they could even be very low in their social standing, such as day laborers. The great teacher Hillel was in fact, making his living as a day laborer, that is, the kind of person that we read in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), who waits in the marketplace in the morning, hoping that somebody will employ him for that day. He will do any job, mostly agricultural jobs, but they were just employed from day to day. They had no long-term job. They waited in the morning at the marketplace. Hillel, that great teacher of the Law, the great scribe, was in fact, one of these day laborers by which he earned his living.

There were some scribes who were not even Jews in origin. There were the great rabbis called Shemaiah and Abtalian. Both of these two great rabbis were not even Jews by birth. They descended from proselytes, that is, Gentiles who accepted the Jewish religion. So in spite of family background, in spite of whether they were Jew or not Jew in origin, the one thing that gave the scribe his position in Israel was his knowledge of the Word of God, of the Old Testament, of the Law.

How did a person become a scribe then? He studied for several years, and went through a long course of training. Some of them began early in life, some began later in life. Josephus the historian, for example, who was also a scribe, began training as a scribe before the age of 14; he studied the Word of God early in life. The training could take a long time. The scribe was not ordained before the age of 30 in the time of Jesus, and later, not before the age of 40. That means to say, supposing a person trained as Josephus did, before the age of 14, it was more than 15 years before he became an ordained scribe. A scribe was ordained by the laying on of hands, rather like a pastor or minister is ordained by the laying on of hands today. And when he was ordained at approximately the age of 30, he became an ordained scribe or scholar. Before that, he would still be recognized as a scholar, but would be described as a non-ordained one.

Their word was as the Word of God

After ordination was completed, he could practice as a full-fledged scribe. He could make decisions in criminal or civil proceedings. He was able to enter into the Supreme Court, that is, become a member of the Sanhedrin if he were chosen. He might also have his own disciples as many of the scribes had many disciples. Once they were ordained, their teaching, their pronouncements and their decisions, were regarded as on the same level as the Word of God itself by the Jews. In fact, in the Talmud, Erubin 21b (Soncino edition)1, it says that the teaching of the scribes had more authority than even the Torah, the Law of God itself, which of course, we must regard as somewhat blasphemous. But it shows the high regard the teaching of the scribes held. Their word was as the Word of God. What they said had to be obeyed, that is, they had the power to bind and to loose.

And that is the power that the Lord Jesus gave to his disciples who were to become the scribes of the kingdom. That is why we read in Mat­thew 16:19, 18:18, where the Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “Whatsoever you bind has been bound in heaven; and whatsoever you loose has been loosed in heaven.” He is in fact saying, “Your decisions represent the will of God.” That is an astonishing statement to make. Very enormous authority is entrusted to the disciples as the new scribes, because they were now living under the power and the control of the Holy Spirit of God. They were not going to make decisions out of their own minds, but under the leading, the authority of the Holy Spirit. It is an enormous power that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his disciples as the scribes of the kingdom.

Because of this authority of the scribes, the Jews held the scribes in enormous respect. In fact, they were held in such respect that apart from the chief priests, and the members of the ruling families, only the scribes could become members of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court. This shows the kind of position they held. It is so important to understand that when a scribe passed by on the street, everybody stood up for him. The only people who were excused from standing up when a scribe passed by were the artisans who were actually in the middle of making a pot, and they could not drop the pot to stand up. They were excused from standing up, but everybody else stood when the scribe passed by.

The scribe distinguished himself by the kind of clothing he wore; there were long fringes at the hem. He wore the scribal gown that distin­guished himself, rather like the academic gowns that universities like to give out today. You would swagger in an academic gown feeling that you are really something. Likewise, the scribes swaggered through the streets.

I remember when I was in a theological college in England, we were all required to wear these black academic gowns, which I found to be an incredible nuisance, because it had such long sleeves that when I stood up, the chair would come with me. Or I would get caught on the edge of the table. The worst part about it was that we had to walk from one department of this college to another department through the streets of London. You can imagine all of us walking through the streets of London in these black gowns, all feeling exceedingly proud of ourselves to be the great academics that we thought ourselves to be. Of course, we were nothing of the sort, but once you put on a black gown, you really feel you are somebody. I am sure that when it was your turn to put on the black gown and the academic hood at your graduation ceremony, you suddenly felt that you are several cuts above the common herd of humanity! So you can understand the feeling of the scribe. He walked through the streets of Jerusalem with his scribal gown on, and all people rose to their feet, in respect to this learned man of the Word of God.

In fact, he was so honored that he was to be honored even above one’s own parents. In the synagogue, he was given the best seat facing the congregation. This always reminds me of some churches that have a platform with some chairs facing the congregation, and important men sit with their legs crossed over, looking over at the congregation below. Yes, all the scribes, the lawyers were given this kind of seat, looking down at the congregation in the synagogues.

They were invited to preach at the synagogues, because who were better qualified to preach than they? So these were the great men who achieved distinction through the learning of the Law. Everyone admired them. The people also thought that some of them even had great spiritual powers.

Many became scribes for the wrong motive

The reason I painted this picture of the honor that was accorded to the scribes is to show you that people could become scribes for the wrong reason. It showed there was a possibility of coming from very humble backgrounds to a position of great exaltation through the learning of the Law. Then people would study the Scriptures for the wrong motive. That was very dangerous. In order to stop this, a scribe was not allowed to take money from his disciples for training them. But that still did not stop scribes becoming scribes because of the great honor that they received in society. They would be invited to feasts and they would always be given the chief seats at the feasts.

This also means that, in every place where the church is an institution that is highly honored, people become priests or pastors for the wrong reason. It is very, very dangerous. I wonder how many people became priests in the Roman Catholic Church in Roman Catholic countries for the wrong motive. Have you ever noticed the awe and honor that is held for a “father”, as he is called, of the Catholic Church, when he walks through the streets of Ireland? Maybe we don’t regard him too much here, but in a Catholic country like Ireland, or Spain, or Portugal, or Italy, a priest is regarded with awe rather like the scribes were. This means that today, many people become priests in the Catholic Church in those countries, for the very wrong reason that it brings the respect from the people. And the good priests are the first to admit it, as my friend admitted to me. Very frankly he said, “We have many priests here who have become priests for the wrong reasons.” But once they become priests, it is not very easy to kick them out, when you realize that they are there for the wrong reason.

We have people who have become pastors for the wrong reason. Big churches pay very well. The other day, I saw in the papers, an advertisement of a big church with several hundred members. All these churches pay very well, especially in the United States. So if you cannot get by too well in engineering, and you cannot get by too well in chemistry, and you cannot get by too well in any other profession, try being a pastor! Go to a Bible college for a couple of years. The academic standard is not very high. You can scrape by there, so long as you get a pass mark. I have not heard of many people failing from any Bible college. I don’t know that they fail anybody for that matter. So your chances of graduating with some diploma would be pretty good. Then one of these days, one of these big, rich churches will invite you to become a pastor! Think of the respect you will get! Only pastors, doctors and lawyers can sign many documents today. These are people highly regarded by society.

Alas, alas, if people become pastors for the money and for the social regard! Unfortunately, there were scribes who became scribes for that reason. And I stress this point so that you can see the comparison between scribes and pastors today, because pastors are meant to be scribes, even if they don’t actually function as scribes today.

But let us also realize this. Actually, some of the scribes were even willing to be quite poor. Not necessarily all of them had a lot of money. In fact, a lot of scribes were very poor, and some of them even had to live out of charity, especially those who were very busy in teaching. Why? They were not allowed to collect any money from their disciples. The disciples were allowed to make donations, but they were not allowed to give it as pay to the scribes. This meant that if you had a lot of poor disciples who had nothing to give you, you had no income. So some of the scribes were hard up, especially those who dedicated themselves to teaching. The others who acted as judges in courts, and did not spend their time teaching people, could have a very good income.

From all of these things then, we begin to learn the situation that, scribes were people who either became scribes because they were attracted by the honor that was accorded to them, even if their pay was poor sometimes; or there were the good scribes, who became scribes because they had one consuming interest, to know the Word of God, and through knowing His Word to know God Himself. We have to realize that there were some very, very good scribes. We must not think that all the scribes were bad. Unfortunately, as in everything, the good scribes were always in the minority, but there were good ones, too.

Scribes endured hardships as disciples

How do you become a scribe? We saw they had to be trained. But how does one train to be a scribe? Was there some kind of university they could go to? No, there was no institution, or college, or university they could go to. The only way was to study under another scribe, to become his disciple. So some scribes had many disciples. Hillel, who became a very famous teacher of the Law later on, had 80 or more disciples at one time. That was a very big group of disciples that he had. Now the best teachers were very concerned to find good disciples. You could not just come in and join as a disciple in whatever way you liked. It was whether the rabbi accepted you as his disciple or not. If he accepted you, you have a good chance to become a scribe in due time.

And we learn of the hardships endured by some of these people, who become disciples of the scribes, because they really desired to know God’s Word. Some instances are really quite touching. For example, when Hillel first started out, he was a very poor man, a day-laborer. He came all the way from Babylon to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of Shammaiah and Abtaliah, two of the most outstanding teachers of Israel, who were act­ually of non-Jewish origin. Kindly notice that Hillel walked from Babylon to Jerusalem! It took him weeks of walking through very dangerous territory, because often, you could get attacked by robbers. But I guess he thought he was poor enough, so no robber would be bothered with him. He walked for weeks and weeks over the Fertile Crescent from Babylon. I should think it was a long distance of over a thousand miles, to get to Jerusalem, to sit at the feet of the great teachers.

And having got there, he took up his job as a day-laborer, earning half a denarius per day. Out of that half a denarius, he had to give one quarter of a denarius as his school fees. You would say, “But the teachers don’t take fees.” No, it is not the rabbi who got the money. It was the school caretaker who got the money. A rabbi who has so many disciples can hardly sit 80 pupils in a room at his home. A hall had to be rented, and the disciples had to pay the best they could, to cover the cost of renting the hall. The rabbi didn’t pay for this, because he already did not have enough money.

On one occasion, Hillel could not get a job. Nobody employed him, because as you read from the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, nobody employed many of those laborers who waited there. So, he did not even get his daily wage of half a denarius. But he was not going to miss the teaching. So much did he hunger for the Word of God, that he sat outside by a window to listen to the teaching, because he didn’t have money to pay for sitting in the hall. It was winter and it was very cold, so some time later, they found him half frozen, still trying to listen to the Word of God. No wonder he became one of the greatest teachers in Israel!

Many of the other great teachers had this same origin. So much did they long to study God’s Word! Today, I find that many students have it just too easy. But these were the good students who endured hardship, and even hunger, to study the Word of God. There was another student, later known as Rabbi Eleazar, who almost starved to death in training to become a scribe, because he became a disciple of the great Rabbi Johanan (the Hebrew for John), against his father’s will. Of course, he had no support from his family, and most of the time he was living in great hunger, until his rabbi discovered he was almost starved to death in his determination to study the Word of God.

Jesus is looking for people to become scribes of the kingdom

So, there were these fine people who hungered for the Word of God. The Lord Jesus was also looking for such people to become scribes of the kingdom of God.

Are you able to teach? Do you know how to make disciples? Do the words of Hebrews 5:12 apply to you—“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need milk, not solid food”? I have discovered that in the average church today, there is hardly a man who knows anything about teaching the Word of God, let alone make disciples. And whatever he is able to teach, is discovered from some book that he got from some bookshop. Where are the scribes?

I am putting this message before you today: The Lord expects every disciple to become a teacher in due time. And we aim to train every person in this church to become a disciple, and in due time to become a scribe. This is our responsibility. In 2 Timothy 2:2, the apostle Paul says to Timothy,

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Paul tells his own disciple, Timothy, who was now a scribe of the kingdom of God, that it was his responsibility to make disciples, through a process of passing on the truth which has been taught to him, from person to person, until the church is able to grow.

I am teaching you now because I have been taught, and I expect you to be able to teach others what I am teaching you in due time. While you are training as disciples of God’s kingdom now, in due time you will become a scribe of the kingdom of God, able to train other disciples for the kingdom. That is the New Testament Church, built exactly on this pattern of 2 Timothy 2:2. The one who is trained then trains others, and so it goes on, building the kingdom of God solidly.

But today, people sitting in the churches are so ignorant of the Word of God. When I was in London and studying in a theological school, a lady once asked me, “What do you study?”

I said, “I’m studying the Word of God.”

She said, “Really? That’s wonderful! Listen to me, I beg of you. Study deeply in the Word of God.”

I said, “Why are you exhorting me?”

She said, “Because I have been a Christian for so long, but I don’t know the Bible. And because I don’t know the Bible, I am of no use to God.”

She understood the point. Unless you are trained to become a disciple of the kingdom, you don’t know how to make other disciples. Oh, I beg of you to understand the teaching of the Lord Jesus!

What is “old and new”?

Going back to Matthew 13:52, we read:

“Every scribe who has been trained (discipled) for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder, (somebody who looks after a household), who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

What is the treasure? This word “treasure” also occurs in 2 Corinthians 4:7,

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

In the context of verses 3-6, the treasure is the gospel. God has revealed that it is “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v. 4), that “the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The gospel has God’s power to transform us to become like Christ, who reflects the glory of God. That is why Paul says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that is, in our physical bodies.

Since “treasure” is the gospel, what does the “old and new” in the gospel mean? It is very simple. Truth is always both old and new. Truth is not something that was invented yesterday. It is old and yet it is always new. That is the remarkable thing about truth. It always has the quality of being both old and new at the same time. If it were new, it would not be truth, because truth could not have been just discovered. Truth has always existed. If it were only old, and it is already past, then it also cannot be truth. Truth is eternal. The truth of God does not change. It abides forever. Therefore, it is bound to be both old and new. It never ceases to be the truth at whatever time you live in history. Truth is the truth when it was 2000 B.C., and it is still the truth in 2000 A.D. It is old and it is still always new.

This principle applies very remarkably to spiritual things. The same thing applies to the command of love in 1 John 2:7-8a,

“Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you.”

It is an old commandment and yet it is new. You will say, “What is he talking about?” Well, what is true is always both old and new. It is as simple as that. So, are you able to bring forth the principles of truth that have the transforming power of God in the gospel? Consider it well.

Become a scribe of God’s kingdom—lead others to life

In closing, let us realize this: the Lord Jesus calls us to become teachers, not necessarily full-time teachers. In fact, there is a warning about aspiring too easily to be a full-time teacher. In James 3:1, it says, “Let not many of you become teachers,” because a much higher standard is required of a teacher than of a disciple. But the Lord Jesus expects every­one to be able to teach, even if they are not teachers in the church, in the sense of being pastors or preachers. So let us pray that these words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 13:52 may be fulfilled, that we may desire to be a scribe of the kingdom of God, and so lead others into the path of eternal life.

1The Talmud’s authority takes precedence over the Old Testament in Judaism. Evidence of this may be found in the Talmud itself, Erubin 21b (Soncino edition): “My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the scribes than in the words of the Torah (Old Testament).”


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church